Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles told Congress in forceful testimony Wednesday that federal law enforcement and gymnastics officials “turned a blind eye” to USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of her and hundreds of other women.
Ms Biles told the Senate Judiciary Committee that “enough” as she and three other US gymnasts spoke in passionate terms about the lasting toll that Mr Nassar’s crimes were taking on their lives. In response, FBI Director Christopher Wray said he was “deeply and deeply sorry” for the delay and pain caused by Mr Nassar’s prosecution.
The four-time Olympic gold medalist and five-time world champion – widely considered the greatest gymnast of all time – said she “can’t imagine any place that I am less comfortable than sitting in front of you right now.” I’ll stay from.” He declared himself a victim of sexual abuse.
“I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame a whole system that enabled and criminalized his abuse,” Ms Biles said through tears. In addition to the FBI’s failures, she said that USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee “knew that I had been abused by their official team doctor long before I became aware of their knowledge.”
Ms. Biles said a message needed to be sent: “If you allow a predator to harm children, the consequences will be swift and dire. Enough is enough.”
The hearing is part of Congress’s effort to hold the FBI accountable after several missteps in the investigation, including the delay in misbehaving with other young gymnasts by the now-jailed Mr. Nassar. At least 40 girls and women said they had been molested after the FBI was made aware of the allegations against Mr. Nassar in 2015.
An internal investigation by the Justice Department released in July stated that the FBI made fundamental errors in the investigation and did not take the matter “with the utmost seriousness” when USA Gymnastics first reported the allegations to the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis in 2015. Gave. The FBI has admitted that his own conduct was unforgivable.
Mr. Ray rebuked his own agents who failed to properly respond to complaints and promised victims that he was “committed to making sure everyone in the FBI remembers what happened here” and that it would never happen again. does not happen.
A supervisory FBI agent who failed to properly investigate the Nassar case, and later lied about it, has been fired by the agency, Mr. Ray said.
MacKayla Maroney, a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic gymnastics team in 2012, told the senators one night when, at age 15, she found the doctor on her own while she was naked — the number of times she was abused. She said that she thought she was going to die that evening. But she said that when she recalled those memories in calls with FBI agents, crying, there was “dead silence.”
Ms Maroney said the FBI “minimized and disregarded” her and the other gymnasts because they delayed the investigation.
“I think for so long we all questioned, just because no one else was fully validating us, that we suspected what happened to us,” Ms Maroney said. “And I think the healing process takes longer.”
Ms. Biles and Ms. Maroney were also joined by Aly Raisman, who won gold medals on the 2012 and 2016 Olympic teams with her, and gymnast Maggie Nichols. Ms Raisman told senators it “disgusted” that they are still looking for answers six years after the original allegations against Mr Nassar were reported.
Ms Raisman noted the traumatic effect the abuse had on all of them.
“Being here today I have everything,” she said. “My main concern is that I hope I have the energy to get out of here. I don’t think people realize how much it affects us.”
Ms Biles admitted in January 2018 that she was among hundreds of athletes mistreated by Mr Nassar. She is the only witness to attend the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – held this year after a year-long delay due to the coronavirus pandemic – where she pulled herself out of the team finals to focus on her mental health.
She returned to earn the bronze medal on the beam, but told the committee that the trauma caused by her abuse at the hands of Mr Nassar played a causal role in her decision to pull out of several competitions. At the hearing, she said she wanted her presence in Tokyo “to help maintain a connection” between the authorities’ failures and Olympic competition, but it “has proved to be an extraordinarily difficult burden for me.”
Democratic and Republican senators expressed disgust at the case and said they would continue the investigation. Richard Durbin, chairman of the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee, said it was the most compelling and heartbreaking testimony ever.
“We have a job to do and we know it,” said Mr Durbin.
Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas said Congress must demand “real change, and real accountability, and we will not be satisfied with platitudes and vague promises about outperforming federal law enforcement”. Kansas Senator Jerry Moran called Mr Nassar a “monster” and wondered how many other abusers have escaped justice, noting that even world-class athletes were overlooked in the case.
An internal investigation by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who testified with Ray, was prompted by allegations that the FBI failed to promptly address complaints made against Nassar in 2015. USA Gymnastics conducted its own internal investigation and the organization’s then president, Stephen Penney, reported the allegations to the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis. But it took months for the bureau to launch a formal investigation.
The watchdog’s investigation found that when the FBI’s Indianapolis field office was investigated, officials there took no responsibility for wrongdoing and provided incomplete and inaccurate information to internal FBI inquiries so that they appeared to be doing their jobs. I was hardworking. investigation.
The report also detailed that while the FBI was investigating Nassar’s allegations, the head of the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis, W.J. Abbott, was talking to Mr. Penny about getting a job with the Olympic Committee. . The report said he applied for the job, but did not get it and later retired from the FBI.
Mr Nassar pleaded guilty to federal child pornography offenses and sexual abuse charges in Michigan in 2017. Hundreds of girls and women said that when they worked for Michigan State and Indiana-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians, hundreds of girls and women said they sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment.
The abuse lawsuit may soon end after USA Gymnastics and hundreds of Mr. Nassar’s victims filed a combined US$425 million settlement motion in US Bankruptcy Court in Indianapolis last month.